These Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream are a delicious flavor combination of chocolate, caramel, and sea salt. With a silky-smooth Swiss meringue buttercream, they’re made to impress – perfect for any celebration!

a spoon drizzling caramel sauce over chocolate cupcakes with frosting

Decadent Salted Caramel Cupcakes

Chocolate + caramel + sea salt = one the most wonderful combinations ever. And these Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream are a delicious, decadent answer to this flavor equation!

I grew up on chocolate wacky cake – it’s always been the birthday cake in our family. So that beloved chocolate cake is the base for these chocolate caramel cupcakes.

Then I topped off the cupcakes with swirls of the silkiest buttercream imaginable. This caramel Swiss meringue is delightfully smooth, and not overly sweet. If you like an extra special buttercream frosting that’s not sickeningly sweet, you must give this a try!

To finish, I gave the caramel buttercream a drizzle of caramel sauce, to really drive home that caramel flavor. And then a sprinkle of sea salt flakes. With the caramel frosting’s buttery base and sea salt finish, I think it tastes a bit like caramel popcorn – it’s fantastic!!

Overview view of ingredients needed for chocolate cupcakes

What You’ll Need

The cupcakes and buttercream are made completely from scratch – and I’m guessing that you have most of the ingredients on hand already!

FOR THE CUPCAKES:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Cocoa powder
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Baking soda – Reacts with the vinegar, to create air bubbles and “lift” the cake.
  • Vegetable oil – You can substitute with a similar, flavorless oil.
  • White vinegar – To aid the cake in rising – don’t worry, your cake won’t taste like vinegar! :)
  • Water
  • Vanilla extract – Use pure vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla.
Salted caramel ingredients

FOR THE CARAMEL:

  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Heavy cream – Helps make the caramel creamy and smooth.
  • Sea salt – For that salted caramel touch.
Caramel buttercream ingredients

FOR THE BUTTERCREAM:

  • Egg whites – A classic ingredient when making meringue and Swiss buttercream.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Cream of tartar – Helps to stabilize the egg whites.
  • Unsalted butter – Butter should be softened to room temperature, not melted.

TO FINISH:

  • Caramel sauce – Homemade or from a jar, both work just fine.
  • Sea salt flakes – I like to use sea salt flakes with especially large flakes!

How to Make Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

The chocolate cupcakes are super easy to make. And the meringue buttercream does take a bit more time than a traditional buttercream…but trust me, the pay-off is so worth it!

  • Make the chocolate cupcakes. Whisk the dry ingredients together. Make 3 large holes. In a separate bowl, combine the vegetable oil and vinegar, then pour it into the holes. Pour water over the entire mixture and mix with a fork. Stir in the vanilla. Transfer batter to a prepared cupcake pan.
  • Bake. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out just barely clean.
  • Make the caramel. Pour water over the sugar in a sauce pan, swirling the pan until the sugar has nearly dissolved. Do not let it boil until it has mostly dissolved, then cover and boil for 2 minutes. Uncover and swirl until it becomes dark amber in color, removing it immediately once the color changes. Pour in the cream, whisking constantly. Set aside to cool to room temperature once combined.
  • Make the meringue for the buttercream. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Simmer water on the stove and place the bowl on top, so it sits in the water just a bit. Whisk the mixture constantly until it’s extremely foamy and reaches 140° F. Move to a stand mixer and beat for 3 to 5 minutes until the meringue holds glassy, marshmallowy peaks. Transfer meringue to another bowl.
  • Finish the meringue. Using the same mixing bowl, beat half the butter and one-third of the prepared meringue. Continue adding the meringue a dollop at a time – followed by the remaining butter, a tablespoon at a time. Reduce the speed to low, then add the room-temperature caramel until evenly combined.
chocolate cupcakes on a cooling rack, topped with caramel frosting
  • Assemble the cupcakes. Swirl the caramel buttercream on top of each cupcake. Drizzle with caramel sauce and then sprinkle some sea salt flakes over the top.
Three chocolate cupcakes frosted and topped with caramel

Tips for Success + Variations

For the best chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream, keep the following things in mind.

  • Don’t overbake the cupcakes. Nobody likes a dry cupcake. While this chocolate cupcake recipe is basically fail-proof, you do want to pay attention to the bake time. Only bake until a toothpick comes out of the center just barely clean.
  • Don’t burn the caramel. You want it to be dark, but it can go from dark to burning in seconds. Once it goes from golden amber to dark amber, take it off the heat immediately.
  • Be careful to not let the egg whites curdle. While making the meringue, if the egg whites start to curdle, it means they are getting too hot, too fast. Remove the mixer bowl for a short while and reduce the heat a bit.
  • Allow the caramel to cool to room temperature.  Do NOT add warm/hot caramel to the frosting, as it will melt the butter! Only add the caramel once it’s at room temperature.
  • Turn it into a cake. This can also be made in a 9″ x 13″ cake pan – bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out just barely clean in the center of the cake.
chocolate cupcake with the paper liner pulled away, ready to eat

Serving Suggestions

Before serving these cupcakes, add a drizzle of your favorite caramel sauce and a sprinkle of sea salt. This adds the final beautiful, delicious touches that really make these cupcakes stand out.

Enjoy with your favorite coffee or tea, or a cold glass of milk!

Three chocolate cupcakes frosted and topped with caramel

How to Store

  • Can I freeze these cupcakes? Yes, you can freeze these cupcakes in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. If you’re planning to freeze them, I would recommend not adding the sea salt flakes until after you thaw from frozen – freezing can create condensation when thawing, which can cause the salt to “melt” into the frosting.
  • Can I make these in advance? You can make these a day in advance, and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I recommend waiting to add the flaky sea salt until right before serving.
  • How to store leftovers. Any leftover cupcakes can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

More Cupcake Recipes:

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Three chocolate cupcakes frosted and topped with caramel

Chocolate “Wacky Cake” Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Yield: 24 cupcakes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

With a decadent caramel Swiss meringue topping, these Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream are the perfect flavor combination of chocolate, caramel and sea salt. These are the cupcakes you make to impress that special someone or serve at a wedding or baby shower.

Ingredients

for the cupcakes:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

for the caramel:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • pinch sea salt

for the buttercream:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

for finishing:

Instructions

  1. For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare 2 regular cupcake pans (24 cupcakes). Use paper cupcake liners or just spray the cupcake wells lightly with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. With a spoon, make 3 large holes in the dry ingredients.
  3. In a small bowl, combine vegetable oil and vinegar. Pour this into the 3 holes in the dry ingredients. Then pour the water over the entire mixture. Mix with a fork. Add vanilla and stir. Divide evenly into the 24 cupcake wells.
  4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, removing from the oven as soon as a toothpick comes out clean. (This can also be made in a 9" x 13" cake pan - bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.)
  5. For the caramel: Add the sugar to a small saucepan and pour the water over it. With the heat on low, swirl the pan around until the sugar has nearly dissolved. Be careful to not let it boil yet. If it starts getting too hot, remove it from the burner for a few seconds, while continuing to swirl. Once the sugar has mostly dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover it immediately and let it boil for 2 minutes.
  6. Uncover and continue swirling the mixture until it becomes dark amber. Be VERY careful here. You want it to be dark, but it can go from dark to burning in seconds. Once it goes from golden amber to dark amber, take it off the heat immediately.
  7. Slowly pour the cream into the dark amber mixture, whisk continually. Be careful, as the caramel will start splattering if you pour too fast. Whisk until combined, then set aside. Let caramel cool to room temperature.
  8. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the stainless steel bowl of an electric stand mixer. Bring a large pan of water to simmer on the stove, making sure that when you place your mixer bowl into it, that the bottom of the bowl is sitting in the water just a bit. Set the mixer bowl in the pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture is extremely foamy and reaches 140° F on an instant-read thermometer. Be very careful to not let the egg whites curdle. If they start to curdle, they are getting too hot, too fast - remove the mixer bowl for a short while and reduce the heat a bit.
  9. Move the bowl to the stand mixer and beat on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until the meringue mixture holds glossy, marshmallowy peaks. Remove the meringue to another bowl and place the empty mixer bowl back on the stand mixer. Then add half the butter and one-third of the meringue to the mixer bowl and beat until well combined. Continue to add the remaining two-thirds of the meringue a dollop at a time. The mixture may look curdled at this point, which is a bit alarming after going through all this work, but adding the remaining butter a tablespoon at a time will smooth things out. It really does come together at the end.
  10. With the mixer on low, add the room-temperature caramel and mix until evenly combined. Do NOT add warm/hot caramel, as it will melt the butter!!
  11. To finish: With a pastry bag and tip, swirl the caramel buttercream on top of individual cupcakes - this buttercream recipe makes enough to add a large mound of frosting to 24 cupcakes. Drizzle on your favorite caramel sauce, and then sprinkle with sea salt flakes to finish them off.

Notes

Cupcakes recipe from Mom’s recipe box. Caramel buttercream from crispy waffle.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 390Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 46mgSodium: 375mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 1gSugar: 30gProtein: 3g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.

Did you make this recipe?

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Caramel being drizzled on top of frosted chocolate cupcakes

This post was first published in 2010, then updated in 2022.